Explore Vietnam’s coffee culture with the founder of Nguyen Coffee Supply
Sahra Nguyen of Nguyen Coffee Supply, Vietnam’s premier American-Vietnamese importer, roaster and supplier of beans, takes us on a caffeinated journey through Vietnam’s remarkable coffee scene.
Coffee from Vietnam has been sold in the United States for a long time, but ask any connoisseur and they probably won’t be able to tell you where to find it, despite the fact that Vietnam is the second largest producer of coffee beans in the world after. Brazil. So in the third wave coffee movement, which prioritizes bean-to-cup transparency, why doesn’t anyone know that this is the source of so much American coffee?
This is the question that prompted Sahra Nguyen, founder of Nguyen coffee supply, to find out where all those grains ended up. “It’s imported here, but not as a fresh coffee bean,” Nguyen discovered. Instead, Vietnamese beans end up as supermarket coffee and instant coffee, “so once it starts hitting the shelves, nobody knows it’s Vietnamese coffee.”
Being channeled through the commercial grade coffee market segment is what kept Vietnamese coffee beans from being raised alongside beans from so many other countries during the recent coffee revolution. Lower value products like instant coffee or ground coffee can sit on the shelves for years, mistakenly characterizing Vietnamese coffee beans as having an inferior flavor. “These beans have been trapped in this cycle of poverty where they cannot increase or advance their production,” says Nguyen.
And the fact that these grains were used for cheaper produce fuels a false narrative that that’s all they are good at, when in fact it has more to do with Vietnam providing coffee beans long before consumers cared so much. on the flavor and quality of life of workers than today, which means there was no new market opportunity as artisanal coffee gained popularity because Vietnamese beans were already dedicated to the market commercial grade.
Despite resistance in the coffee industry from those who buy into the inferior bean narrative without digging deeper into why this characterization exists, Nguyen knew there was something good behind it – and Nguyen Coffee Supply is changing. This is done by currently sourcing a green coffee bean from Da Lat and fresh roasting in Brooklyn. “I know this because the United States buys them,” she says, adding that another blind spot in the history of Vietnamese coffee beans is the assumption that there is no coffee culture. to the source.
Like most places that produce coffee, coffee is a mainstay of the local diet in Vietnam, and a coffee culture exists despite its lack of visibility on the international stage. “Vietnamese coffee is robusta-centric, with a bolder flavor, darker nutty flavors,” says Nguyen, sharing that Vietnam is the world’s largest producer of robusta beans (with arabica on the rise). But it is the diversity of the coffee culture that appeals to Nguyen so much, “whether it’s having a street coffee with stools on the sidewalk, or specialty coffees with roasters in the store.” , noting that the hierarchy observed in American coffee culture doesn’t exist in Vietnam.
Coffee lovers should take the time to explore what Vietnamese coffee has to offer, and nowhere is it better than at the source. Nguyen shares his suggestions for those looking for a diverse exploration of Vietnam’s coffee culture, from specialty cafes to traditional holes in the country’s walls.
SAIGON (HO CHI MINH CITY)
The workshop is one of Saigon’s premier craft and specialty coffee destinations, considered the top three in reputation and quality, and a pioneer in the industry. It can be a little hard to find, as it’s upstairs in some nondescript building, but once inside it feels like you’ve stumbled upon a local gem. “This is one of the few places that creates blends using Vietnamese beans with non-Vietnamese beans, including Ethiopian Arabica beans,” Nguyen said, speaking of their wide range of coffee beans as guests can taste. Nguyen suggests trying Catimor, an interesting strain that undergoes a washing process in the highlands of Da Lat.
Address: 27 Ngô Đức Kế, Bến Nghé, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh
Bosgaurus Cafe roasted on site 5 days a week. It is distinguished by its use of arabica, a bean less common in Vietnam. They are also home to the winner of the Vietnam National Barista Championship. From a design point of view, the coffee is magnificent, inspired by a laboratory. Nguyen describes how “baristas stand behind a 9.6-meter-long bar suspended from the ceiling,” surrounded by all-glass walls. The menu highlights the quality and versatility of Vietnamese arabica beans, the rising variety behind robusta.
“By sourcing from seed to cup, Bosgaurus promotes arabica sua da, a very interesting version of Vietnamese coffee (ca phe sua da), which is almost always made with robusta. They tend to roast lighter to highlight the complexity of the coffee while letting regional differences shine through. Nguyen suggests trying the “Arabica Sua Da”, which is Arabica coffee and condensed milk.
Address: 1D5, 92, Villa, Nguyễn Hữu Cảnh, Saigon Pearl, Bình Thạnh, Hồ Chí Minh
Viet is a simple name that essentially sends the message that “this too is Vietnamese coffee”, appropriate given that they are one of the early pioneers of specialty coffee in Vietnam. Preparations such as pourers and espresso are newer in the country, and by putting this on the scene, La Viet changed the idea that Vietnamese coffee could only be sold in plastic cups on street corners. . “Like Bosgaurus, they put the spotlight on Arabica beans and aim to change the narrative to include these beans in what we traditionally think of as Vietnamese coffee.” Check out the Bloody Cold Brew (which is spicy) and the Cold Brew Margarita for an adventurous treat.
Address: 191 Hai Bà Trưng, Phường 6, Quận 3, Hồ Chí Minh
GOOD ME THUOT
G20 cafe is one of the most popular cafes in Buon Me Thuot which is a renowned coffee producing region. “It’s beautiful with an entrance lined with cherry blossoms,” recalls Nguyen, adding that in addition to being one of the most Instagram-friendly cafes in Buon MeTuot, the cafe showcases long traditions. of coffee production in the region. It should be noted that they also offer a limited amount of civet and elephant coffee produced nearby, which is not always an ethical production method. These coffees are digested by elephants and civets, then extracted from their waste. “This is said to give the coffee great flavor and textural properties,” Nguyen describes of the resulting coffee variety.
Address: Tân Lợi, Thành phố Buôn Ma Thuột, province of Đắk Lắk
The museum of the world of coffee
Less of a cafe and more of an essential stop for coffee lovers on tour in Vietnam, the recently opened Museum of the world of coffee is built in the style of the longhouses used by many ethnic minority populations who have traditionally cultivated the land and cultivated the coffee of the region. “Vietnam is actually incredibly diverse with 54 distinct ethnic groups that have their own customs, languages and dress,” says Nguyen.
In addition to getting coffee, visitors can learn about the long history of coffee production in Vietnam, which was first introduced during colonial times by the French. “Vietnamese coffee is unique not only for its quality and range, but also for the interesting historical circumstances in which it was born,” Nguyen said. At the World of Coffee Museum, one can find many artefacts from around the world dating back to the early days of coffee production, brewing and consumption before electricity.
Address: Nguyễn Đình Chiểu, Tân Lợi, Thành phố Buôn Ma Thuột, Đắk Lắk 630000
Typically, the specialty coffee scene has yet to reach Nha Trang, but since it’s a booming destination for tourists, it’s a place to watch for craft coffee cultivation.
“This cafe is popular among the locals, which makes it unique,” says Nguyen. The design is fantastic, constructed entirely of wood with images of Vietnamese jungles and greenery to create the feeling of being inside a tropical treehouse. It showcases the versatility of Vietnamese coffee, not only for traditional ca phe sua da, but also for espresso and creative granita. AT A coffee, the owners import beans from a farm in Da Lat and grind the fresh coffee on site.
Address: 40 Đường Lê Đại Hành, Tân Lập, Thành phố Nha Trang, Khánh Hòa 650000
Specialty coffee took off first in Saigon, but Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is just behind. Like some of the others mentioned on this list (and like Nguyen’s company, Nguyen Coffee Supply), Workshop promotes “fine robusta” as a means of communicating that robusta can be just as good as arabica in specialty applications. Their signature drink, hatsukoi, incorporates espresso with steamed milk, salt, pepper and cinnamon. They also serve a shakerato and pandan coffee in the summer. “Here we see the creativity and willingness to experiment with young baristas coming to Vietnam,” says Nguyen. It is a chic café with a clean, modern and minimalist design.
Address: 65A Phố Tôn Thất Thiệp, Điện Bàn, Ba Đình
Although it carries specialty coffee, Blackbird is more of a relaxed meeting place for newcomers and coffee experts. “Located in the Old Quarter, it’s a convenient stop if you don’t want to go too far to try great Vietnamese coffee,” advises Nguyen. Arabica and Robusta are on offer here, and the cafe is a modern, progressive establishment that showcases many facets of Vietnamese coffee, with a specific focus on coffee from the country.
Address: 5 Chân Cầm, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm
Cafe Dinh is “a little piece of history frozen in time,” according to Nguyen. Like a well-preserved time capsule, this cafe captures what cafes looked like during Vietnam’s tough times in the 1990s. “Before we talk about specialty coffee, we need to recognize and pay tribute to the long-standing establishments that have been the best. pioneering the way we drink coffee today, ”said Nguyen. Hanoi’s famous egg cafe, which is a whipped / stirred yolk, is a specialty here. It is one of the oldest cafes in Hanoi, accessible only through a narrow hallway and a narrow staircase. Inside, the vibe is old-fashioned and traditional, with tiny stools and tables, people smoking cigarettes. Nguyen suggests trying to grab the coveted balcony seat. This is not a specialty cafe, as they use ground coffee, but it is delicious and as “classic” as it gets in Vietnam.
Address: 13 Đinh Tiên Hoàng, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm